Hawaii Volcanoes National Park High Point Trip Report

Mauna Loa (13,667 ft)

Date: March 20, 2002
Author: Dick Ellsworth

On March 20, we drove out the Saddle Road again (in the Escort again) and at approximately 27.5 miles turned to the south on a dirt/asphalt road towards the Mauna Loa Observatory. The 18 mile road took us about 1 hour to drive due to the potholes etc. Never really bad, but not a road to blast along on either. We parked at about 11,000 in a small signed area about 1/4 mile before the Observatory and began hiking at 9:00 AM.

We followed the Observatory road for about 1/2 mile then began following the "stone men" (cairns) up through the lava. At one point about 1/2 mile before the "North Pit" there are quite a few of these cairns going in different directions. You should head in the same general direction and avoid the temptation to turn west (to your right) too soon. At the "North Pit" the summit trail will veer off to the west (right) and is easily followed to the summit BM. You will pass several false summits on the way. The hike involves miles of easy angled walking above 13,000 feet. Windy on the last three (each way) miles, but not very cold -- we were both wearing shorts. Of course we were both coming from Kotzebue!

Watch your step on some of the lava, I broke through some of the lava tubes (only 8", but still I didn't know that as I was breaking through). Also lots of golf ball- to baseball-sized cinders that become wearisome on the descent. (I still nurse several cuts from a stumble and fall -- it's sharp!)

About 12-14 miles round trip. We took five hours up and five hours down, arriving at the car in the gathering darkness at 7:00 PM. I took three liters of water and drank it all. I thought this was a nice alternative for those on a compressed schedule. The alternative involves about three to four days, spending the first night at Red Hill Cabin, a night at the Mauna Loa Cabin, then summit and out (we ran into two people who had done just that, descending to the Mauna Loa Observatory on the third day).